2017 fantasy football notes: Cram session

One of the worst feelings in the world is feeling unprepared. You forgot to study for a quiz and have as much knowledge about the subject as Alex Smith has on not being average. You’ve got an important presentation at work but forgot your briefcase at home.

Worst of all, your fantasy draft is tonight, yet you’ve spent the last six months watching baseball and catching up on your favorite guilty pleasure on Netflix. Your pulse reaches an unhealthy level as your heart races trying to think about how to prepare a draft plan good enough to beat your friends, yet you rank Adrian Peterson as your No. 6 running back because you think he’s poised for a great year with the Vikings.

But Adrian Peterson doesn’t play for the Vikings, and you’re screwed.

Fear not, lazy fantasy football player, I’ve got just the article for you. Let’s talk about all the big news and notes you missed so you can have a fighting chance to compete in your league this season.

2017 FANTASY FOOTBALL NOTES: QUARTERBACKS

Marcus Mariota is undervalued

2017 fantasy football notes

Photo: titansonline.com

Marcus Mariota is among the top 25 most attractive players in the NFL, and it turns out he’s pretty good at football too. Mariota was good enough to earn spot starts last season, and finished as the No. 13 scoring quarterback. He’s especially suited for fantasy football thanks to his rushing ability, and he’s gotten some upgraded toys to play with for 2017.

No shade at Rishard Matthews or Tajae Sharpe, but Mariota didn’t have the greatest receivers to throw to last season. The Titans signed Eric Decker during the offseason and drafted top wide receiver prospect Corey Davis with their first pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. On top of that, Mariota plays with an elite offensive line and DeMarco Murray, who got back to his usual RB1 self last season.

Entering his third season, the myth of a sophomore slump cannot affect Mariota. Mariota was the top scoring quarterback from weeks five through week 12 of last season, which shows his upside is through the roof this season.

Mariota is being drafted as a fringe QB1 this season, which is way too low. Sit back and wait for Mariota as others grab overvalued quarterbacks, and then grab him once you’ve filled out your starting lineup and part of your bench.

Blake Bortles sucks at throwing footballs, but don’t overlook his volume

Sure, you may’ve spit up in your mouth a little due to reading the name Blake Bortles, and that’s fine. Bortles ruined Allen Robinson last season and made some of the worst throws of the season in 2016. However, while Bortles gets roasted by Twitter everyday, he could make for a good backup for your team.

Before you click the “x” in the upper right corner of your device, hear me out.

Bortles had the fourth-most fantasy points among quarterbacks in 2015, and followed that with the tenth-most points among quarterbacks last season. Even with all the hate Bortles gets, he’s still been a QB1 in each of the past two seasons.

I’m not saying you need to draft him as your QB1 this season, but you should at least consider the volume he’ll see. Leonard Fournette will suck in Jacksonville’s system unless they plan on taking less snaps out of the shotgun this season. Jacksonville started plays out of the gun more than every single team in the NFL except one last season, so don’t expect Fournette to be successful in his current system.

This paves way for Bortles to continue to see a bunch of pass attempts, and at some point they have to turn into touchdowns and 250-yard games. Bortles will most likely embarrass himself this season, and you’ll get heckled for taking him, but if quarterbacks are thin, take him as your QB2.

2017 FANTASY FOOTBALL NOTES: RUNNING BACKS

Don’t be that guy who drafts Adrian Peterson

2017 fantasy football notes

Photo: Associated Press

You thought I was kidding about Adrian Peterson no longer being a Viking, didn’t you? Well, I’m no Photoshop wizard, so the picture to your left with Peterson doning New Orleans Saints getup proves Peterson is a Saint this season.

I have no clue why the Saints signed Peterson this offseason. Mark Ingram was productive enough last season to be the eighth-best fantasy running back in PPR leagues. Drew Brees is still under center, so expect the Saints to continue to air it out this season, especially with Michael Thomas playing on the outside.

Ingram will most likely be the starter come Week 1, and even though Peterson will see touches this season, it won’t be enough to sustain any kind of success. Peterson managed just three games last season, and averaged just 1.9 yards per carry. He’s also topped 40 catches in a season just once in his career, compared to Ingram doing that in each of his past two seasons.

Peterson will be dropped halfway through the season by all active owners, so save yourself the trouble and keep Peterson off your team. You can score Terrance West, Robert Kelly, Tevin Coleman or even Danny Woodhead at Peterson’s price, and all of which offer much more upside and volume potential.

Eddie Lacy isn’t as fat as he used to be, but that doesn’t mean you should draft him

Eddie Lacy literally got paid this offseason to not be so chunky. Lacy’s always been overrated to me, but that hasn’t stopped others from clogging their arteries by drafting him. In case you missed it, Lacy is now a Seattle Seahawk, and he’ll be fighting off Thomas Rawls to get fed this season.

While the two were splitting time with the first team to open camp, it appears Thomas Rawls has taken over the bulk of the first team work, Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times said on Aug. 9. For the near future, Rawls looks to be the starter.

Fantasy owners will draft Lacy for the same reason as Peterson, and that’s for name value alone. Rawls doesn’t have the name recognition, but he does have the advantage in terms his skillset. Rawls has much better lateral quickness and has forced more missed tackles over the course of his career. That ability is a necessity in a Seattle offense that has a terrible offensive line.

Marshawn Lynch is playing football again

2017 fantasy football notes

Photo: raiders.com

At the end of the 2015-16 season, Marshawn Lynch called it quits even though it seemed he had more left in the tank. Well, Lynch okie-doked us all by coming out of retirement to join the Oakland Raiders.

With Latavius Murray now in Minnesota, Lynch will own the backfield for the Raiders. Oakland’s offense already owns one of the top one-two punches at wide receiver with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, and the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL in Derek Carr. The talent is no longer shifted to benefit only the passing game with the addition of Lynch.

Lynch is the No. 15 running back according to the consensus Fantasy Pros rankings for 2017. Expect Lynch to end up as a low RB1 by season’s end. He’s ranked lower than Leonard Fournette, Isaiah Crowell and Carlos Hyde in the rankings, which is odd to say the least. Lynch is in a better offense and will receive the same if not more volume as the aforementioned players.

2017 FANTASY FOOTBALL NOTES: PASS CATCHERS

Brandin Cooks now plays for the Patriots, and that’s not fair

Tom Brady has made his money by throwing to a bunch of late round draft picks and one large tight end that seems to party more than he plays. That changes this season with the addition of Brandin Cooks. The Patriots traded for Cooks during the offseason, and with that addition and other moves, there’s been pundits saying New England could go undefeated this season.

Cooks’ most notable trait is his speed. His catch rate on deep passes last season was 45.8 percent, good for fourth in the NFL. He also had 544 deep receiving yards which was second in the NFL. Patriots beat writers have raved about Cooks to start camp, which further proves he has a great chance to one of the best receivers Brady’s ever had.

I’ve yet to take Cooks in any drafts at his ADP, as his ADP is a little too high for my taste. However, taking Cooks as your WR2 could pay huge dividends for your team. He resides in a pass-heavy offense with one of the best quarterbacks of all time. I’m not quite comfortable with Cooks as my WR1, but if you have him as a WR2, your receiving corps will be solid.

Terrelle Pryor used to be a bad quarterback but now is a good wide receiver

2017 fantasy football notes

Photo: redskins.com

Terrelle Pryor made a cool one-handed catch in training camp, and for one day fantasy football Twitter anointed him as the next coming of Randy Moss. But that’s what happens during the start of training camp, as our football-thirsty brains need something to sip on. Even so, Pryor is in line to become the No. 1 option in a pass-heavy offense this season.

Kirk Cousins may be his generation’s Alex Smith, as he’s as average as Philadelphia fans are angry. However, the Redskins’ poor defense and questionable running attack could give Pryor the chance to see a lot of targets.

Pryor had 1,007 receiving yards last season with the Cleveland Browns, and that’s as impressive as ESPN ignoring the impulse to tweet about Tim Tebow smacking a double in a low-level minor league game. Pryor was a low end WR2 last season, and his situation this season should allow him to be a solid WR2 again this season.

Martellus Bennett will clown around in Green Bay’s offense

Martellus Bennett signed with the Packers this season, making him the first player to sign with Green Bay during free agency since Bart Starr (that’s called sarcasm, folks). Bennett had a better season last year as a backup in New England than half of the starting tight ends in the NFL. Moving to a pass-heavy offense and playing with a future Hall of Famer in Aaron Rodgers gives Bennett the chance to be a TE1 this season.

Bennett was fifth among tight ends in yards per route run last season at 1.96. This shows he took advantage of his time on the field better than nearly all tight ends. Bennett also dropped just two of his 57 catchable targets last season, which will please Aaron Rodgers (that’s a slight against Davante Adams, folks).

Bennett won’t have to battle anyone on the roster for snaps at tight end, so he has the upside to be a top tight end this season. He’s been drafted as a low end TE1 right now, but if you can get greedy and take him as a TE2, you’ll have a good problem on your hands midseason.

 

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Super Bowl series 2017: AFC West

Super Bowl Series 2017: AFC West

Football is right around the corner and The Game Haus is going to get you ready for the 2017-18 NFL season. The Super Bowl series is going to explain how every team in the NFL can win Super Bowl LII. The Super Bowl series will be divided into eight editions, one for each division. This is the eighth, and final edition, Super Bowl series: AFC West.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs are entirely overlooked and it is egregious. Andy Reid has done incredibly well so far in Kansas City. Reid has gone 43-21 and the Chiefs have made the playoffs in three of his four seasons.

The only thing missing is the playoff success and thus a Super Bowl victory. Kansas City is just 1-3 in the playoffs during the Reid era. That can change this season as the Chiefs look to make a run at Super Bowl LII.

Kansas City is a team that wades in the water like a shark and out of nowhere will sneak up and attack you. Alex Smith gets the hate while the defense gets all the love but the Chiefs averaged 24.3 points per game last season, which was 13th best in the NFL. The Chiefs were able to get out in front of teams early, scoring the eighth most first half points with 12.8 per game.

Super Bowl series 2017: AFC West

(Photo Credit:http://www.kansascity.com/)

The Chiefs weren’t special on offense but they were consistent. They ranked 18th in third down conversion percentage (38 percent), 15th in rushing yards (109.2 per game) and 19th in passing yards (233.8 per game). Again, the offense wasn’t spectacular but they are wrongfully accused of costing this team successful playoff runs.

There is still room for growth. The offense can help the defense out even more by running more plays to keep that stellar defense rested. The Chiefs ranked 27th last season averaging 61.9 plays per game. An effective rushing attack is one of the best ways to run more plays.

Kansas City has added veteran running back C.J. Spiller and rookie running back Kareem Hunt in hopes of improving the offense, but Spencer Ware should be the feature back. This offense has been consistent and as long as they improve just a tiny bit, the Chiefs can remain Super Bowl contenders.

In the Reid era, the Chiefs have averaged 27.5 points per game in the playoffs. They also lost a playoff game to the Colts, 45-44. Anytime a team scores 44 points, they should win. As much blame as this offense gets, they have performed well enough to win games in the postseason.

Stepping away from the offense, the Chiefs are truly Super Bowl contenders because of their defense. Despite losing Justin Houston after five games and Derrick Johnson after 13, the Chiefs were able to rank seventh in points allowed per game at 19.4.

The reason the Chiefs were good on defense wasn’t that they held teams to low amounts of yardage; they actually were bad at allowing yards. They ranked 24th in total yards (368.5 per game), 26th in rushing (121.1 per game) and 18th in passing (247.4 per game).

What Kansas City really excelled at was red zone defense and forcing turnovers. The Chiefs only allowed points in the red zone 49.1 percent of the time. They also led the league with 2.1 takeaways per game. There can be improvements made in how much yardage allowed but if the Chiefs can continue forcing turnovers along with getting stops in the red zone, then the Chiefs can remain a top-tier defensive team.

In order to win the Super Bowl, Kansas City must get home-field advantage. They are 18-7 at home in the past three seasons. They must also get over the tough schedule that includes New England, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Dallas outside of the division, plus Oakland and Denver twice each.

If the Chiefs can navigate this schedule and make the playoffs, the offense needs to continue averaging 27.5 points per game and the defense must remain elite. Doing all of this will mean that Arrowhead will be home to the Super Bowl LII champions.

Oakland Raiders

The Oakland Raiders were legitimate Super Bowl contenders last season but the injury bug bit at the worst time. Derek Carr broke his leg in week 16 and just like his leg, the Raiders playoff chances were shattered.

Offensive tackle Donald Penn also went down and if the Raiders can remain healthy at their key positions, then they have one of the best shots in the league to win Super Bowl LII.

In order to win the Super Bowl, the Raiders must improve defensively along with remaining healthy. The Raiders gave up 24.1 points per game and the problem was that they struggled in the second half of games.

Oakland ranked 29th in second half points, allowing 13.4 per game. The Raiders struggled in yardage as well, ranking 26th in total yards (375.1 per game), 23rd rushing yards (117.6 per game) and 24th in passing yards (257.5 per game). The Raiders spent their first three picks on the defensive side of the ball to address these defensive woes.

Super Bowl series 2017: AFC West

(Photo Credit: http://www.sportsworldreport.com)

Part of the reason they struggled so much defensively was that they couldn’t get off the field on third down. Opponents converted 39.4 percent of the time against the Raiders on third down. If they can fix this, it will improve their entire defense.

Fixing their third down defense starts with getting to the quarterback which the Raiders were the worst at. Oakland ranked 32nd in the NFL in sacks, accumulating just 25 for the season. Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and newly acquired Jelani Jenkins must make a bigger impact in rushing the quarterback.

Oakland must also find some discipline. The Raiders ranked dead last in both penalties (9.2 per game) and penalty yardage (77.9 per game). Without these improvements, the Raiders won’t be capable of making deep postseason runs.

The strength of the Raiders is, without question, their offense which averaged 26 points per game. Oakland seemed to get better as the game went on, averaging the fifth most points in the second half with 13.6. The Raiders had no trouble racking up the yardage either, averaging 373.3 yards per game.

They can thank their surprisingly good rushing attack. Oakland ran for the sixth most yards in the NFL last season with 120.1 per game. Adding Marshawn Lynch to the mix should improve this number and make the entire offense even better.

Oakland had the 13th best aerial attack in the NFL, throwing for 253.2 yards per game. Derek Carr has been exceptional and has also been given solid targets to throw to. His two main targets, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, combined for 176 receptions, 2,156 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.

The Raiders decided Carr needed more and added talented receiving tight end Jared Cook and explosive wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.

Cook has struggled to remain healthy but has been effective when on the field. Patterson has been to the Pro Bowl as a returner but had a solid season catching 74.3 percent of the balls thrown his way last season. These two weapons could really push Oakland’s passing attack to the next level.

The only improvements the Raiders need to make on offense is on third down and in the red zone. Oakland only converted 38.1 percent on third down. Extending drives can help the defense get rest and therefore, perform better.

Although the Raiders averaged 26 points, they only scored in the red zone 58.6 percent of the time. If they can improve this percentage, then the Raiders could easily average 30 or more points per game. If the Raiders do that, then the Lombardi Trophy is going back to the bay, baby.

Denver Broncos

There weren’t many who believed the Broncos would struggle last season but Denver stumbled to 9-7. Similar to recent years, Denver’s defense was spectacular but the offense was just too far behind. The loss of Peyton Manning was more painful than fans care to realize. Denver might have a Super Bowl defense, but without a quarterback to make big plays, the offense is going to hold this team back.

Let’s start off with what this team is known for, and that’s defense. The Broncos have a reputation for beating up quarterbacks. Denver ranked third in the NFL last season with 42 sacks. This helped them get off the field on third down as they forced a third down stop 63.6 percent of the time. Getting to the quarterback often, and quickly, helped the secondary allow just 185.8 yards passing per game. That was the best mark in the NFL.

Super Bowl series 2017: AFC West

(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Despite all the success against the pass, the Broncos did struggle against the run. Denver had the fifth worst rush defense in the league, allowing 130.3 yards per game. Altogether, Denver only allowed 316.1 yards per game and that resulted in allowing the fourth fewest points per game at 18.6.

In order to get back to the Super Bowl, Denver must clog up the running lanes. The Broncos have added Domata Peko at defensive tackle to help their run defense. Denver cannot depend on the play of the quarterback and therefore the defense must become elite in all facets of the game. All that is left to conquer is the run.

Offensively, the Broncos need to run the ball more often to make up for their quarterback play. Denver only ran the ball 40.2 percent of the time. This resulted in an average of 92.8 rush yards per game, sixth worst in the NFL. C.J. Anderson is a great back but has yet to play a full season in his career. Speaking of injury prone, the Broncos did add Jamaal Charles to the mix in the backfield as well. While neither can remain healthy on their own, maybe being paired together can help them stay healthy and turn Denver into a good running football team once again.

None of that will be possible without good offensive line play though. Losing Russell Okung isn’t a crushing blow because he had health problems anyway. This is why Denver drafted Garrett Bolles. Also, Matt Paradis is one of the best centers in the league and if he can lead the rest of the unit then Denver can improve their offense.

The Broncos’ passing attack was abysmal as well, ranking 21st. Because of the deficiencies on offense, Denver only managed to score 20.8 points per game. Either Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch need to grab ahold of the quarterback spot with force and prove they can be the franchise quarterback.

If neither of them can, rookie Chad Kelly could sneak in and become the man. No matter how the cookie crumbles, one of these quarterbacks needs to have a great season to help get the Broncos to the Super Bowl.

For everything to fall into place the Broncos, offensive line play must improve which in turn will help the running game improve. Denver needs a quarterback to solidify their spot as the franchise quarterback and lastly, the Denver defense needs to stop the run. If the Broncos can solve all these problems, they can win Super Bowl LII.

Los Angeles Chargers

Super Bowl series 2017: AFC West

(Photo Credit: http://eastvillagetimes.com)

The Chargers have left San Diego and are embarking on the journey to run Los Angeles. Due to a slew of injuries and a sub-par defense, the Chargers finished last season 5-11. That record didn’t indicate how good the team really was. The Chargers went 1-8 in games decided by seven points or less. Los Angeles can become a contender simply by winning these close games.

The Los Angeles Chargers are going be a much improved defensive team. For starters, Joey Bosa will be ready at the start of the season and he had 10.5 sacks in just 12 games as a rookie. They also added safety Tre Boston to help out in a secondary that gave up 242.9 yards per game through the air.

The defense also includes Corey Liuget, Brandon Mebane, Melvin Ingram, Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward. These are some really good players but they must play together to improve last year’s bad season.

Last year, the Chargers ranked 29th in the NFL in points, allowing 26.4 per game. It was so high because they really stunk in the second half of games. The Chargers gave up a total of 14.6 points per second half last season with 8.3 of those points coming in the fourth quarter.

The Chargers defense partly struggled just because the offense gave up 2.2 turnovers per game, which was worst in the NFL. The defense is really talented and if they don’t get put into bad situations due to turnovers, they will easily bring down that amount of points they give up.

Last year’s offense was really good aside from the turnovers. They averaged the ninth most points in the NFL with 25.6 per game. Philip Rivers’ aerial assault led the way. They averaged 262.4 yards through the air despite losing their best receiver Keenan Allen. A healthy Allen could allow Rivers to have a better 2017-18 campaign.

In order to really improve the offense, the Chargers must run the ball more effectively. They averaged 94.4 yards per game but a banged-up offensive line hurt their potential. The Chargers know that a better offensive line will improve everything. Los Angeles snatched offensive tackle Russell Okung from the division rival Broncos. They also drafted guard Forrest Lamp.

Improvement for the Chargers starts with the offense. Running the ball more and simply staying healthy will accomplish that. The defense will then be able to bring down a number of points they allow due to rest. Lastly, the Chargers special teams must stop shooting themselves in the foot with bad punts, missed field goals, botched snaps and just horrible coverage.

It will not be easy for the Chargers to make the playoffs, especially in their division. If they can make the improvements listed, then they will have a puncher’s chance. Once they get into the playoffs it is anybody’s trophy.

 

Thank you for checking out the Super Bowl series: AFC West. This was the final edition of the Super Bowl series and you can find the previous editions of the Super Bowl series here.

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Quarterback rankings for the 2017 fantasy football season: 32-21

In the NFL today, quarterbacks are easily the most important position on the field. With an elite quarterback, winning comes easily (just look at the Patriots). But in fantasy, the demand for the position just isn’t what it used to be. Today, we’ll take a look at my 2017 fantasy football quarterback rankings, starting with numbers 32-21.

These quarterback rankings are unlike the others you’ll find. They are based on a variety of things: athletic ability, arm accuracy, arm strength, strength of receivers and strength of offensive line.

Here’s the start to my early quarterback rankings for the 2017 fantasy football season.

32. Josh McCown (New York Jets)

What happened to the Josh McCown we saw four years ago? In 2013, McCown threw for 13 touchdowns and one interception with the Chicago Bears. Do I think that he still has the ability to put up decent numbers in the NFL? Yes, just not with the broken, receiver-less Jets.

31. Cody Kessler (Cleveland Browns)

I have hope for Cody Kessler or any starting quarterback for the Browns, as they have an improved offensive line and still have some decent weapons on the team. Kessler showed signs of improvement and potential last year, but doesn’t have enough experience to be higher on this list. Plus four fumbles in nine games. I’ll take my chances with a different quarterback in fantasy this year.

30. Jared Goff (Los Angeles Rams)

I still believe that Jared Goff has the potential to be something great in the NFL, but is this year his year? I’m gonna have to say no. In an offense centered around young stud Todd Gurley, with minimal receiving help, Goff is just waiting for his time to come. I’m gonna say pass on Goff this year but keep him on your radar for the future.

29. Blake Bortles (Jacksonville Jaguars)

2017 fantasy football quarterback rankings

(Photo: USA Today)

I was big on Blake Bortles last year, but clearly things didn’t pan out. I know this is pretty low for a guy that finished in the top five for fantasy quarterbacks just two years ago, but I don’t believe what the Jaguars did this offseason is going to help Bortles. They brought in Leonard Fournette which makes me think they’re ready to go run-heavy, especially in the red zone. Be cautious with Bortles this year.

28. Brian Hoyer (San Francisco 49ers)

I like Brian Hoyer this year, just in fantasy football. Under Kyle Shanahan, I actually think Hoyer can make some noise in this league, as he’s got some big targets like Vance McDonald and Pierre Garcon. I just don’t believe that a quarterback leading a team to probably around four wins can do well in fantasy.

27. Mike Glennon (Chicago Bears)

The Bears were a little risky giving Glennon this much money after only a few career starts. With some nice weapons at his disposal, like Jordan Howard, Victor Cruz and Kevin White, I’d suggest keeping Glennon on your radar and picking him up on a top tier quarterback’s bye week depending on the matchup.

26. Trevor Siemian (Denver Broncos)

If I had one word to describe Trevor Siemian, it would probably be mediocre. He’s an average quarterback who will throw for 250 yards, a touchdown and a pick per game, letting the dirty Broncos defense do their work. Draft another quarterback, but consider Siemian on bye weeks due to his copious amounts of targets.

25. Tyrod Taylor (Buffalo Bills)

I don’t really understand the big hype around Tyrod Taylor this year. How will Taylor succeed so well in a run-first system? Coming off his huge year, Lesean McCoy will continue to get a majority of the touches while in the red zone the Bills will use their newly signed fullbacks. I see Tyrod Taylor being nothing special again this year, so keep him off your team.

24. Carson Palmer (Arizona Cardinals)

2017 fantasy football quarterback rankings

(Photo: cincinnativseveryone.com)

Alright, I’ll be the first to say it: Carson Palmer is no longer a top-tier quarterback in the NFL. Going into this season with arguably the best running back in the NFL, Bruce Arians will probably focus on the running game this year. To make a long story short, stay away from Carson Palmer.

23. Deshaun Watson (Houston Texans)

I really want to put Watson higher on this list but how can I do that when he has never thrown an NFL pass? With weapons like Lamar Miller, Deandre Hopkins and Will Fuller IV, Watson is in the perfect position to succeed. Stash Watson on your team and wait for him to breakout midway through the season.

22. Andy Dalton (Cincinnati Bengals)

I believe Andy Dalton is a good quarterback in the NFL and can be great. This year won’t be his year though. He has two huge targets in A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert, but his offensive line took a hit this offseason. Losing two starters is hard to replace and I believe Dalton will feel the pressure this season and it will affect his numbers in a negative way.

21. Alex Smith (Kansas City Chiefs)

Smith is the go to guy if your quarterback is on his bye week and you want to know you’ll get at least 12 points out of your fill-in. He’s not flashy and he doesn’t make big plays, but he’s safe with the ball and he makes the right decisions. If you want to wait to pick a quarterback late in your draft, Alex Smith is your guy.

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NFL Draft Quarterback

Contenders Who Should Take a Quarterback Early in the NFL Draft

The NFL Draft is upon us. More so than any other year in recent memory, there is a wide range of opinions on the quarterback class.

Whether it is the small sample size of Mitchell Trubisky, the turnovers of Deshaun Watson, the college system that Patrick Mahomes played in or something else with another prospect, they all seem to have at least one thing that makes them very risky propositions in the NFL.

There isn’t a true first-round prospect at quarterback in this draft. Moreover, there is not a rookie that will be ready to play from day one. However, we all know how important the quarterback position is and how desperate teams like the Jets and Browns are for a good one.

So, these rookies will probably get drafted earlier than their talents merit and inherit bad situations where they are set up to fail.

In a perfect world, the ideal scenario would be for the youngsters to sit and learn behind a veteran quarterback on a contending team for a year or two. However, the NFL landscape has changed so much in recent years when it comes to quarterbacks.

Contending teams do not have high enough draft picks to get their hands on a coveted quarterback. If that is not true, many teams are simply afraid of wasting a draft pick on a signal caller who will not play right away.

With the stage set, here are three teams who should (but probably will not) take quarterback early in the draft.

Alex Smith Andy Reid

Photo: CBS Sports

Kansas City Chiefs

Alex Smith is a fine quarterback. However, last year proved once again that there is a ceiling as to how far Kansas City can go with him taking snaps. With a rock solid defense and the emergence of Tyreek Hill at wide receiver, Kansas City does not have a ton of needs.

Thus, snagging whoever the organization feels is the best available quarterback with pick number 27 would make sense. The Chiefs can remain competitive with Smith while grooming his replacement.

In an astonishing statistic, the last quarterback the Chiefs drafted to start and win a game for the franchise was Todd Blackledge in 1987. It is time to draft and develop a young quarterback.

New York Giants

Despite an uneven career, Eli Manning has given the Giants two Super Bowl titles, but he is 36 now. The organization has spoken openly about the need to find his successor. Free agent signing Geno Smith appears to be getting the latest crack at that gig and the Giants are clearly in win now mode. Even so, finding a way to snag a raw talent like Deshone Kizer wouldn’t hurt.

With the improvement of the defense last year and the addition of Brandon Marshall on offense, the Giants can afford such a move. The ownership of the Mara family always ensures this franchise has its act together. Any young quarterback has every chance to eventually thrive.

Arizona Cardinals

deshone kizer

Photo: Scout.com

Like the other two teams, Arizona has enough talent on the roster to win now. However, at 37 and with two major knee injuries under his belt, Carson Palmer is on his last leg.

Bruce Arians has rightly earned a reputation as one of the best quarterback coaches in the business. Patrick Mahomes would be an interesting project for him to work with.

While rumors of these teams addressing their long term quarterback needs are increasing, they are more likely to address short term needs that will get them from good to great. If I am a quarterback prospect, I would give up my non-throwing arm to go to one of these situations as opposed to one like the Jets, Browns or 49ers.

 

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Franchise Analysis – Kansas City Chiefs

Since 2014, the Kansas City Chiefs have consistently gotten better. After recording nine wins in 2014, 11 wins in 2015, and 12 wins in 2016, what more could a fan base ask for? The answer is simple, win in the playoffs. The Chiefs have not won a home playoff game since 1993 and haven’t won the conference championship since 1969. So the question remains, what must happen to snap the Chiefs championship drought?

2016 Evaluation – Offense

This offense, like those in previous seasons, was predicated on not making mistakes. Kansas City finished in the top 10 in terms of giveaways by only committing 17 on the season. Given they had 15 giveaways in 2015 and 17 in 2014, it’s clear that their number one priority is taking care of the football.

Just because a team doesn’t accumulate turnovers doesn’t mean they are a great offense. The Chiefs finished 13th in points and 20th in yards, according to Pro Football Reference. I often talk about how an offense can skew a defenses ranking in points allowed; however, the Chiefs benefited from the opposite. Their defense was able to put them in great field position by creating a league high 33 turnovers.

Chiefs Championship Drought

Alex Smith became the first quarterback in NFL history to lose a playoff game when scoring two or more touchdowns than their opponent. (Courtesy of; Kansas City Star)

With any NFL offense, the focus is on the signal caller. One stat most people don’t know about Smith is that since 2011, only Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have won more games. However, despite what most people think, winning isn’t everything. At this point how Alex Smith performs in the regular season is irrelevant to Chiefs’ fans, as long as he plays well enough to get them to the postseason.

Since 2013, his adjusted yards per attempt in his postseason campaigns has declined from 10 yards, to 4.3 yards. This was never more apparent than against the Steelers. Smith failed to connect with Tyreke Hill on two occasions, one of which was a guaranteed touchdown.

At this point in his career, it would be unfair to ask Alex Smith to start attacking downfield. His style of play is one that you either take or leave, and in all fairness, is one the Chiefs should leave by 2018 at the latest. You won’t lose a Super Bowl with a quarterback who doesn’t take chances, but you can’t end the Chiefs’ championship drought with one either.

2016 Evaluation – Defense

2016 was great for this defense. With four Pro-Bowlers, two of which earned All-Pro honors, this defense was electrifying. While they may have had lapses against the oppositions running attack, there was one constant that remained. Turnovers. As stated earlier, the Chiefs were first in creating turnovers, with 33. This defense was also tied for the most interceptions caused with 18 and were first in fumbles with 15.

There’s no doubt that this team’s strength lies in the secondary. With All-Pro safety, Eric Berry, and corner, Marcus Peters, teams struggled to find favorable match ups in the passing game. Berry was the single best pass defender in terms of covering tight ends and no one has more interceptions than Peters since he entered the league.

Sadly, this team did struggle when trying to stop the run. The Chiefs finished the season as the 26th ranked run defense, something they have to improve on for next year. In a 3-4 defense, the nose tackle is the most important player in terms of defending the run. The nose tackle has to occupy double teams and not give up ground.

Chiefs Championship Drought

Dontari Poe has unique pass rushing skills as a 3-4 nose tackle, but will Chiefs wind up making him one of the most overpaid free agents of 2017? (Courtesy of; Arrowhead Addict)

Who plays nose tackle for the Chiefs? None other than, Dontari Poe. Yes, Poe has a lot of notoriety for what he does in goal line formations. However, Pro Football Focus rated Poe as the 90th best interior defender against the run. On the other hand, Poe has an uncanny ability to rush the passer from the nose tackle position, making him a unique player at that position.

It’s not entirely Poe’s fault. Other players who were liabilities against the run included defensive end Rakeem Nunez-Roches and linebacker Terrence Smith, who filled in the for the injured Derrick Johnson. This triangle of ineptitude made one side of the defense especially susceptible to the run.

If this defense plans to be the one to end the Chiefs championship drought in 2017, they must become at least an average rush defense.

Divisional Analysis

Clearly, Kansas City has everything they need to win the AFC West. However, this team is far from perfect. The Chiefs have a large decision looming this offseason, as both Eric Berry and Dontari Poe become free agents. I think the choice is simple. Let Poe walk and resign Berry.

In this situation, the Chiefs have to address their run defense by finding a new nose tackle. Brandon Williams and Kawann Short, while he played in a 4-3 scheme in Carolina, could be suitable replacements. On the other hand, it’s likely they’ll want to address such a pivotal position in the 2017 NFL Draft.

As of January 24th, our own Joe DiTullio has the Chiefs selecting Corey Davis, the wide receiver from Western Michigan. I’m not so sure. Davis would be a good fit on an offense that wants to attack down the field, but we’ve clearly outlined that isn’t what Alex Smith does.

Instead, they would likely replace Dontari Poe with Caleb Brantley, a top nose tackle prospect from Florida. They could however wait to fill this need by selecting Carlos Watkins from Clemson, or Elijah Qualls from Washington in the later rounds.

Offensively, the Chiefs don’t have a glaring need. They could bolster their receiving core, or, they could look to upgrade their running game. Jamaal Charles’ health will be questioned for the rest of his career and Spencer Ware proved he can handle a starters workload. However, Christian McCaffery would be a great addition for Alex Smith and this conservative passing attack.

Postseason Prospects

The Chiefs not only won the AFC West, but were also able to claim a first round bye. So clearly, they must be doing something right. Here are the following relevant offensive and defensive statistics that serve as good predictors for postseason success.

Chiefs Championship Drought

A good barometer for postseason teams is to have two or more categories inside the top 15 and usually one or two inside the top ten. For the Chiefs, they are top 15 in both points scored and sacks allowed. However, they are largely mediocre in the other metrics. Remember, mediocre isn’t terrible, but it isn’t good enough to win multiple playoff games.

Of these statistics, the two most telling is 3rd down conversion rate. Why? Because it gives you an idea about how effective this team is on first and second down. Teams with a high 3rd down conversion rate are successful early on first and second down, making their third down attempts less difficult.

 

Chiefs Championship Drought

The Chiefs defense suffers from an all or nothing problem. They finished top ten in points allowed and number one in turnovers. But, they were bottom third in the other defensive metrics. When Justin Houston is able to play a full season, their sack numbers will no doubt improve.

We outlined the Chiefs’ struggles against the run earlier and those struggles led to a poor production on third down. The Chiefs have to improve against the run in 2017 in order to record more sacks and get offenses off the field.

2017 Prediction

The Kansas City Chiefs are in a great position to end their championship drought in 2017. Unless Andy Reid is able to transform Alex Smith in the offseason, this team has reached their ceiling. The Chiefs will take a step back next year and will miss the playoffs after finishing 9-7.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Pro Bowl Olympics

Every year it is the same sad story when people start talking about the Pro Bowl. It’s boring, the players don’t even try, or it’s a meaningless game that wouldn’t be missed if scrapped. The problem though is there needs to be some kind of recognition for the best players in the NFL. All other sports hold all-star games and it doesn’t seem to be as big of an issue.

(Photo: Jake Roth, USA TODAY Sports)

Hockey isn’t as popular as the other major sports in America so there is not much of an emphasis on the all-star game and the problems it may create. Baseball has a home run derby during all-star weekend, plus the winner of the game earned home-field advantage in the World Series for their league through this season. It may be unfair to the team with the better record, but there was meaning within who wins the game. As far as the NBA is constructed, the all-star weekend has a skills competition, a three-point contest, and a dunk contest that get the fans excited about the all-star game. Football doesn’t have anything exciting like that. They have tried different kinds of mini-games or competitions that just does not get anybody super pumped up about meaningless football.

Many ideas have been constructed on how this game should be handled. Nothing has stuck or sparked interest and most people want to just do away with it. But what if it was turned into something similar to the NBA’s All-Star Weekend, in which NFL players got to display athletism on more than just the gridiron? Many ideas are outlandish but sometimes it takes an outlandish idea to strike gold.

 

 

A New Idea

Speaking of striking gold, why not turn the Pro Bowl into a weekend event and call it the Pro Bowl Olympics. There will be three events on Saturday that would display different skills that otherwise would not be displayed by players in the NFL. The regular game would still take place on Sunday. Players not trying or nobody caring about the game would no longer be an issue.

(NEW ORLEANS, LA – SEPTEMBER 30: Tight end Jimmy Graham #80 of the New Orleans Saints dunks the ball over the goal post after scoring a 27-yard touchdown in the second quarter against the Miami Dolphins at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 30, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

There would be three mini-tournaments in three different sports. The events would be a softball, flag football, and basketball tournament on Saturday with four teams each in participation. The teams would be split up into AFC offense, AFC defense, NFC offense, and NFC defense. Special team pro bowlers would be allowed to choose offense or defense but must remain with their conference. Each player voted to the pro bowl would be allowed to opt out of one of the three events on Saturday.

The goal would be to develop a point system so that three players from the Saturday events, would earn Pro Bowl Olympic Medals. Gold, Silver, and Bronze would go to the best three players at the end of the day who had earned the most points. There would also be a team that could win as the best team. For example, the NFC defense collectively scored the most team points, then all players who were on the NFC defense would win the team gold medals.

 

 

Softball

Many football players were multiple sport athletes in high school and/or college. Some were great basketball players and others were great baseball players. It would be highly intriguing to see the best players in the NFL square off in a slow pitch softball game. For softball, it would be a five-inning game, single elimination tournament.

(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

The first round would see the AFC offense vs. NFC Defense and the AFC defense vs. the NFC offense. It would be fun to see who could be pitchers and what other positions, players may play on the softball field. Wouldn’t you love to see Antonio Brown covering centerfield? How exciting would it be to see who the AFC defense would throw out there to pitch?

It would be fairly simple to set up the point system for softball. This list would explain how each individual player would score points towards their pro bowl olympic medal: a Single=1 point, a Double=2 points, a Triple=3 points, a Home Run=4 points, a Grand Slam=5 points, a stolen base=3 points, and striking out would result in losing a point. In the field, a pitcher striking a batter out= 3 points, players involved in a double play putout=1 point, winning pitcher=3 points, losing pitcher= a loss of 3 points. In softball there are not a lot of strike outs and in a game like this the fans would want offense, therefore, most of the scoring would come from batting.

As far as team points are concerned the team that won the tournament would get three team points and each team following in placement would receive a point less. For example, second place would get two points, and third place would get one point. The team who finishes last would end up with a goose egg.

Flag Football

Now alot of people would question, why would we want to see a flag fotoball game from football players? This game would be around to help fans see the athletism of the offensive and defensive line. The rules would state that the quarterback must be either an offensive or defensive lineman and each player could only play quarterback for a half. The halves would be only 10 minutes long. It would be seven on seven but there would be subbing allowed as well. It would be the same tournament format as softball for the match-ups.

(Photo: Getty)

Scoring towards medals as individuals would be as follows: Touchdowns= 6 points, Safeties=2 points, receptions= 1 point, completions= 1 point, interceptions throw= loss of 5 points, interceptions by defense= 5 points, deflections/pass breakups=1 point, and drops= loss of a point. Team scoring would be the same as it was in the softball event.

This would allow NFL players such as, center Rodney Hudson, or defensive tackle Fletcher cox, the opportunity to showcase passing or receiving skills that otherwise would go unnoticed.

 

Basketball

(http://www.sbnation.com)

The last event would be a basketball tournament. By now you get a sense of how this would play out. Five vs. Five with two 10 minute halves and once a player is subbed out they will no longer be allowed to reenter the contest. This allows multiple players to get in the game since both sides of the ball have quite a bit of players.

Scoring in this event would be easy as well. A player would receiving points for every single point they scored. For example, if linebacker Anthony Barr dropped 17 points in the basketball game, 17 points would go to his overall olympic score. A player also would receive 1 point per an assist, rebound, steal, or block. If A.J Green had 14 points, three assists, seven rebounds, two blocks, and a steal he would have 27 points towards a pro bowl medal.

 

 

Bite the medal

(http://www.sbnation.com/lookit/2016/9/25/13049130/josh-norman-odell-beckham-jr-giants-washington-nfl-ballet)

At the end of the three events the player with the most points total would be the Pro Bowl Olympics Gold Medalist. Second and third place would receive their silver and bronze, respectively. The team with the most points in standings would also be awarded Gold Medals.

There is no realistic chance of something like this happening and it is okay to admit that, but one can not read this and not be intrigued. It creates alot of strategy on how the players would approach which positions they play within the three events. The competitor in all of them would be brought to the surface as each and every single player would be chasing that gold. The Pro Bowl Olympics wouldn’t have to be limited to these three events. Golf, tennis, hockey and soccer could all be added or replace any one of these events and it would still bring about major excitement to Pro Bowl Weekend.

Yes, the idea might be far-fetched but can you sit there and really say that it wouldn’t be fun to see Alex Smith pitching to Landon Collins? Or to see Jadeveon Clownley playing quarterback? Or see Odell Beckham Jr. trying to dunk on Josh Norman in the basketball game? The Pro Bowl Olympics would turn Pro Bowl weekend into the most popular exhibition weekend in all of sports.

 

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Fluke or For Real – Rostering Players the Week After

Whether it’s DFS or season long leagues, everyone has been burned by that fantasy fluke or flop. If you played against Le’Veon Bell last week, you have my most sincere condolences. He posted the best fantasy performance of the year; however, you can’t be angry. Everyone knows that any given week, Bell can accumulate upwards of 25 points. On the other hand, if you played against Bilal Powell, you have every right to complain. The perfect storm of circumstances came together to create a career fantasy day for Powell. Given their performances, you’ll likely consider them for your lineups this week. The trick is to know when someone’s production is sustainable or fluky. Here are two ways you can determine if a player’s increased or lack of production was fleeting or for real.

Previous Performance

It’s a simple idea. Examine a player’s history to determine their future. This process is different for each position. At wide receiver, you want to look at a player’s targets, specifically when they were productive. For example, Dontrelle Inman finished as the fifth best Wide Receiver in Week 4 as he posted 21.5 points against the Saints. As I said earlier, you’ll want to look at his targets to determine if the points he scored are worth chasing the following week. Leading up to that game, Inman was never targeted more than four times; he was targeted 11 times against the Saints. Inman’s performance can clearly be characterized as a fluke.

inman

Dontrelle Inman got off to a rocky start, but has proven to be a staple in this Chargers passing attack. (Courtesy of; Chargers.com)

This should automatically be a red flag. While you can keep him on your fantasy radar, the massive increase in targets is not sustainable. The week after his top-five performance, Inman scored less than one point and was only targeted three times. Other cases like Inman include Sammie Coates in Week 5, JJ Nelson in Week 8, and Rishard Matthews in Week 9.

There are players like Kenny Britt and Davante Adams who could be thrown into this group, but only at first glance. Britt exploded in Week 6, but it was not because of an unexplained increase in targets. Leading up to that game, he had been targeted at least six times in all but one of his games. That included a game where he was targeted 10 times.

Thus, playing Britt after his big game would be okay based on his track record. It would still be foolish to think he can post the same number of points. However, he received the same amount of targets the following week. The opportunities were there for Britt, he just didn’t make the most of them. Britt finding the end zone twice could be labeled as a fluke, but not the targets he received.

Game Flow

Also referred to as game script, game flow is when the play calling or game plan is altered based on what has already happened. For example, the Rams fumbled their opening kickoff and then threw an interception on their next possession. After quickly being down 14 points, the Rams would no longer be able to pound Todd Gurley 15-25 times. This kind of situation would obviously hurt running backs, but it would help quarterbacks and wide receivers.

Similar to examining previous production, look at the game flow of a player who over or underproduced. Did a running back have decreased attempts because of a blow out? Did a wide receiver or quarterback rack up points in garbage time? These are important questions that can help determine wether or not you should roster a player with irregular production.

Using Bell as an example, he tremendously benefited from game flow. With 5:28 left in the third quarter, the Steelers took a 21-7 lead. This was positive game flow for Bell, as the Steelers wanted to keep the clock running and the ball in Bell’s hands. This allowed Bell to fill up the stat sheet and rack up fantasy points. This week against the Bengals, I expect a more competitive game and better weather. Therefore, Bell won’t be able to duplicate his effort on the ground. As talented as Bell is, accumulating over 200 rushing yards was a fluke and should not be expected for the rest of the year.

Conversely, a large deficit in the third or fourth quarter is beneficial to wide receivers and quarterbacks. If the weather had been better, there’s no doubt Tyrod Taylor and Sammy Watkins would have scored more points. Because of the snow, LeSean McCoy had a more involved role in the passing game.

One Step Ahead

Yes, I’m aware how simple both these strategies are. However, it must be talked about because inexperienced DFS players fall into this trap weekly. How do I know? Ownership percentages of a player increase the week after they do well. Sometimes it’s justified like Jamison Crowder, and other times it isn’t, like Cameron Meredith. As long as you do your homework, you won’t fall victim to a fluke performance by an unknown player. Now as the DFS season comes to a close, here are three players you can be a week early on, and take advantage of their great performance.

3. Alex Smith – $6,800

ORCHARD PARK, NY - NOVEMBER 03: Alex Smith #11 of the Kansas City Chiefs looks to pass against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on November 3, 2013 in Orchard Park, New York. Kansas City won 23-13. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Alex Smith has one of the best Fantasy match ups of the week vs. Tennessee.(Courtesy of; Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

  • With only one game above 15 points in his last six starts, Smith is due for a big game.
  • He faces one of the worst pass defenses in Tennessee, who allowed Trevor Siemian to score 17.4 points.
  • For once, Smith has targets to throw to. Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill have both scored at least eight points in their last four games.

2. Jermaine Gresham – $4,500 

  • Gresham has received an enlarged role in the Cardinals’ passing game, seeing at least six targets and scoring at least seven points in his last three games.
  • With Michael Floyd’s DUI, there will be more targets to go around, and no doubt Gresham will benefit in the intermediate passing game.
  • Gresham faces the Saints secondary at home this week, one that is in the bottom third in the NFL.

1. Sammy Watkins – $6,100

  • For those who have taken the wait and see approach, we’ve seen everything we’ve needed to, as Watkins was on the field for virtually every snap versus the Steelers.
  • The weather held Watkins back from breaking out last week, as he was only targeted six times.
  • Watkins gets to play the 0-13 Browns this Sunday…I’m predicting that Watkins will finish as a top five Wide Receiver this week and eclipse 15 points for the first time this season.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Week 10 NFL Picks Against the Spread

Week 10 is off and running in the NFL. I was on the wrong side of a ten point spread Thursday night, picking the Browns is rarely a good idea. Last week, I was a pedestrian 6-5-2 and am now 64-69-6 on the year. All spreads are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing. My picks are bolded and outright upsets have an asterisk. Here goes nothing.

*Falcons at Eagles (PK) – For any site to have three pick ‘em games in one week is quite rare. The first of those match ups features two pleasant surprises. I struggle to see either team making a real playoff run, but Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is playing at an MVP level for now and the Falcons offense is by far the best unit in this game. That is good enough for me. Atl 30 Phi 24

*Bears at Bucs (PK) – I like the Bucs on paper, but something is missing. I am not sure what. Their young offensive talent is still too inconsistent. Meanwhile, I had the bears in the playoffs this year. I am never afraid to own up to a horrible prediction. Right now, Tampa Bay has a home-field disadvantage. They are 3-17 in their last 20 home games. On the other end, Chicago seemed reenergized on both sides of the ball in support of returning quarterback Jay Cutler last time out. I expect both trends to continue. Chi 21 TB 17

*Broncos at Saints (-2.5) – This is the kind of game I would feel much more comfortable betting five minutes in, but that is frowned upon. Last week was a humbling experience for the Broncos and their fans, myself included. However, the much-maligned Saints defense could be just the thing Denver needs to get the running game going. If that happens, everything else follows suit for the Broncos, including the play of first-year starter Trevor Siemian. However, Drew Brees and the Saints are always going to score points and the Broncos defense is banged up at every position level. Yet, it is still better than anything the Saints have on defense. Either the Saints roll here or Denver’s superiority in two of the three phases is just enough to get the job done. I will go with the latter. Den 31 NO 28

Packers (-2.5) at Titans- Yes, the Packers are struggling on offense, but the lack of respect here is stunning. On their worst day they are significantly better than anything Tennessee has to offer. The Titans are hanging around in a bad division, but continue to turn the football over at an alarming rate. A pair of defensive scores led to their demise last week in San Diego. It should surprise no one if that happens again here. Like the rest of the AFC South, Tennessee has really struggled outside the division the last couple years. They are improving, but not ready for a team that is capable of playing like Green Bay can, even if they are struggling. GB 31 Ten 20

Texans at Jaguars (PK) – With the way Brock Osweiler has played, I am not sure how the Texans are 5-3 and in first place, but they are. That same bad division referenced above certainly helps. They stay inside the division and notch another win this week. Hou 24 Jac 13

Chiefs at Panthers (-3) – Carolina is starting to wake up. They are nowhere close to where they were last year and it may be too little too late for the playoffs, but I certainly would not want to play them. This is just a bad matchup for Kansas City. Alex Smith, who is returning from injury relies on taking what the defense gives him. Based on the last two weeks, the Panthers defense will give him nothing. Kansas City is not built to play against flashy teams with offensive firepower. Make no mistake, the Panthers have that even though they have struggled this year. Car 27 KC 19

Rams at Jets (-2) – Good God what an awful game. In terms of quarterback play, these might be the two worst teams in football right now. Yet, both are resistant to playing the young quarterbacks they have on the bench. No one seems to understand why. The only reasonable explanation I can offer is holding on to miniscule playoff hopes. The Jets have a little more talent at the skill positions. Veteran running back Matt Forte is still a big time playmaker. He will be the difference in an ugly game. NYJ 16 LA 10

Vikings at Redskins (-3) – Remember when the Vikings were undefeated and Mike Zimmer was the second coming of Vince Lombardi? Yeah, me neither. Due to a mix of injuries and players simply coming back down to earth, Minnesota’s season is slowly falling apart. The defense is still very good, but the patchwork offensive line is dragging the entire other side of the ball down the drain. The Redskins should have just enough offensive juice behind Kirk Cousins to pull out a tight game. Was 20 Min 14

Dolphins at Chargers (-3.5) – Here is your sneaky good game of the week. What Jay Ajayi has done for the Dolphins is incredible. His 500+ yards rushing combined in the last three games has taken the Dolphins from dead in the water to a team that could fight for a playoff spot. Unfortunately for them, San Diego is the best last-place team anyone has ever seen. They are just in the wrong division in the wrong year. If games were 58 minutes rather than 60 they would have just a single defeat, but they have closed games much better in the last month. Philip Rivers is white-hot and running back Melvin Gordon has finally found his NFL sea legs. Should be a fun one, I will take San Diego pulling away late. SD 32 Mia 21

Cowboys at Steelers (-2.5) – While last week’s loss may really hurt the Steelers down the road, in the short term, it means nothing. Ben Roethlisberger had no business being out there last week. The coaching staff should have saved him from himself. Of course he said he was okay to play. He is a competitor. In theory, he will only get healthier going forward. As good as Dak Prescott has been, he really has not been forced to keep up with an elite quarterback in a shootout. That is exactly what this game will turn in to. Until I see it, I will have my doubts. Pit 35 Dal 28.

photo from timesunion.com

photo from timesunion.com

49ers at Cardinals (-13.5) – This pick has nothing to do with Xs and Os and everything to do with value. The 49ers are dreadful in every way you can imagine, particularly on defense. Chip Kelly is a college coach, and there is nothing wrong with that. Apparently, he is the only one who does not realize it. Despite all that, the Cardinals are not 13.5 points better than anyone in this league. AZ 33 SF 24

*Seahawks at Patriots (-7.5) – Russell Wilson is finally starting to look like himself and Seattle’s defense will always travel well, even to New England. Believe it or not, the Patriots are made up of humans just like every other team. The only style that occasionally disrupts Tom Brady and the offense are fast, physical defenses who can rush the passer. See Seattle. So, why not go out on a limb? Sea 24 NE 20

photo from espn.com

photo from espn.com

MNF: *Bengals at Giants (-2.5) – Two teams with very high ceilings and very low floors in terms of their level of play. The Giants as a home favorite scare me. The Bengals in primetime scare me. I wouldn’t advise putting a nickel on this game, but the Bengals are a little more balanced on offense. Cin 27 NYG 23

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Week Nine NFL Picks Against the Spread

It is time for another week of NFL picks against the spread. I was just 5-8 last week, but did call the Bears upset of the Vikings. This week, I whiffed on the Thursday night game again and will start from behind the eight ball. 58-63-4 is my record for the year. My picks are bolded. Outright upsets have an asterisk. Read ‘em and weep.

Cowboys (-7) at Browns- With everyone continuing to sing the praises of Dak Prescott and the Cowboys, the gritty Browns are tempting here, but I just cannot do it. They are bringing a plastic knife to a gun fight each week. I expect Dallas to scrape by, but we could view the quarterback situation very differently come Monday morning. Dal 19 Cle 9

Lions at Vikings (-6) – Toughest pick of the week. After a hot start, the Vikings are slowly revealing their true selves. With zero production in the run game and an offensive line that has struggled to block a barstool the last two weeks, there are many nervous people in Minnesota. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s sudden resignation won’t help things in the short term. However, the defense will carry them to a win here. The Lions had a really bad performance on offense last week in Houston. A trip to Minnesota will not fix those issues. The Vikings are better equipped to win an ugly game. Min 17 Det 15

Jaguars at Chiefs (-7.5) – Jacksonville’s young talent on offense just has not come around, it seems to be time for yet another round of major changes there. Unlike the Raiders, the Chiefs play smart, disciplined, and complete football to win their games. Nick Foles is a more than capable replacement for dinged up quarterback Alex Smith.   This is the week the Chiefs emerge as the only real threat to Denver in the AFC West. KC 26 Jac 14

Jets at Dolphins (-3.5) – When was the last time a single player changed a team’s fortunes the way Jay Ajayi has for the Dolphins? He was not even active for the season opener. All he has done since getting a shot, is post back to back 200 yard rushing games. Most important, he has taken some heat off quarterback Ryan Tannehill who is not good enough to carry an offense. Miami has gone from dead in the water to a team that may get on a real roll. The Jets beat the Browns last week, yay. They still stink. Mia 27 NYJ 17

photo from espn.com

photo from espn.com

 

Eagles at Giants (-2.5) – Both these rivals are unpredictable and they tend to produce nutty games against each other. When in doubt look at the quarterbacks. Eli Manning > Carson Wentz. NYG 28 Phi 24.

Steelers at Ravens (-1) – These division foes always play fantastic games, no matter their records. This will be no different. Despite the Steelers having much better team results in recent years, the Ravens have won four out of the last five head to head matchups. If Ben Roethlisberger does play, how could he possibly be 100% about three weeks removed from knee surgery? The AFC North turns into a mess at the top with a Ravens win. Bal 24 Pit 21

Panthers (-3) at Rams – The Panthers may have finally gotten their mojo back last week. It may be too little too late for the playoffs, but the offensively inept Rams should not be an issue. Car 21 LA 10

Saints (-3.5) at 49ers – A win here gets the Saints back to .500, plenty could enough to be a factor in the NFC wild card race. The defense has gone from God awful to just bad. Despite splitting their last two games they have held opponents to under 30 points. Most times, that is going to be more than enough for Drew Brees and the offense. The 49ers are just dreadful in every phase of the game. The defense is spent by halftime because the offense cannot stay on the field. If I am Chip Kelly, I jump back to the college game as soon as I can. He is a college coach. There is nothing wrong with that. NO 38 SF 17

photo from cbssports.com

photo from cbssports.com

Colts at Packers (-7.5) – Andrew Luck is still forced to do it all on his own for the Colts. Much like last week, he is up against a pretty solid opponent. The offense in Green Bay finally returned to normal last week, and they are not facing the high powered Falcons offense this week. No drama here. GB 31 Ind 21

Titans at Chargers (-4) – The Titans are the worst .500 team I have ever seen. Meanwhile, the Chargers are the best below .500 team I have ever seen. Tennessee has a negative point differential. Conversely, if games were 58 minutes rather than 60, the Chargers would be 7-1. San Diego has closed games better lately. Expect them to roll here. SD 31 Ten 17

*Broncos at Raiders (-2)- My only outright upset pick of the week should surprise no one who knows me or reads my stuff. Even if I thought Oakland was going to win, it is not in me as a human being to pick the Raiders to beat the Broncos. This used to be a great rivalry, it is awesome to have the game be so meaningful again.

In this matchup, Denver will be able to do whatever it wants on offense, just like every other Raiders opponent this year. Oakland is allowing six yards a play on defense. Oakland’s offense has had to put up video game numbers to win games, including 600+ yards to get by in overtime last week against Tampa. If anyone thinks something like that will happen against the Broncos defense, they are sadly mistaken. The Raiders deserve a ton of credit for being where they are, but play time is over. Den 34 Oak 24

MNF: Bills at Seahawks (-7) – The Seahawks offense is just plain bad right now. Only Russell Wilson knows if he is truly healthy. Despite last week’s loss, any doubt about the defense is unfounded. Holding the Saints to 25 points in their building is nothing to sneeze at. Buffalo’s run first style keeps this close, but Seattle finds a way as they so often do. Sea 26 Buf 20

 

 

Dallas Quarterback Controversy

Injuries are a funny thing. A lot of times injuries hurt a team and turn them bad or uncompetitive. You should not get better as a team if one of your best players goes down for a significant amount of time. From time to time there are exceptions of course. Take a look at this year’s Minnesota Vikings. They have a starting quarterback, starting running back, and two starting offensive tackles that have been placed on injured reserve. Despite these losses, they find themselves at 5-1.

(https://insidethestar.com/cowboys-headlines/tony-romo-injury-the-ripple-effect/)

(https://insidethestar.com/cowboys-headlines/tony-romo-injury-the-ripple-effect/)

They aren’t the only team dealing with injuries. Dallas had to start a rookie quarterback due to Tony Romo’s back injury. It may have been the greatest thing to ever happen to the Cowboys franchise. The Dallas Cowboys sit at 6-1 and are in first place in the NFC East without Tony Romo. Dak Prescott has taken the NFL by storm, and it should be no surprise.

Dak has created a quarterback controversy in Dallas not because of what he’s said, but because of how he he’s played. Prescott has been quoted on many occasions saying this is Romo’s team and when Romo is ready to come back he will step aside into his backup role.

There is one problem with that. Dak is not a backup. The rookie quarterback has proven he belongs in the NFL as a starter. It begins to raise the alarming questions: how did he even fall to the fourth round? What did the other teams miss? Should Tony Romo start for the Dallas Cowboys ever again?

College Days

(https://hailstatebeat.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/dakattack-the-definitive-dak-prescott-pun-collection/)

(https://hailstatebeat.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/dakattack-the-definitive-dak-prescott-pun-collection/)

Dak Prescott was a flat out baller at Mississippi State and his stats prove it. In 2013 he appeared in 11 games and threw 1,940 yards, 10 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. Dak also made an impact on the ground rushing for 829 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also found a way to contribute as a receiver with two receptions for 53 yards and two touchdowns. He quickly displayed great athleticism. That was just the beginning.

In 2014, his junior year, Dak took the Bulldogs to heights never seen in school history. It was his first full season as a starter and he led the Bulldogs to a 10-2 record and an Orange Bowl appearance. He also helped Mississippi State reach their first ever number one ranking in school history. In his first full season as the starter, he broke 10 school records, most notably: passing yards in a season (3,449), passing touchdowns in a season (27), and total touchdowns in a season (41). He also finished eighth in Heisman voting.

His senior season wasn’t as great as his junior season as far as leading the team to wins, but he still did good things for the Bulldogs. He set a personal record for most passing yards in a season with 3,793. Dak also threw 29 touchdowns to just five interceptions. He also added 588 yards on the ground along with 10 touchdowns.

The statistics were always there for Dak Prescott and so was the eye test. He played in the toughest conference in college football. The proof that he was a great football player was there, so where did his evaluation during the draft go wrong? Why wasn’t he a first round pick like Carson Wentz or Jared Goff? It raises the question, what did other teams miss that the Cowboys didn’t?

The Draft Fall

(http://www.clarionledger.com/story/sports/college/mississippi-state/2016/03/13/how-dak-prescotts-dui-arrest-affects-his-draft-stock/81739262/)

(http://www.clarionledger.com)

One off-field mistake is the reason Dak Prescott fell in the draft. In March, just a month before the NFL draft, Dak was arrested for a DUI. Teams often take chances on players with off-field issues, but at the quarterback position it has more of an impact. A quarterback is the face of the franchise and no owner, general manager, or coach wants their quarterback involved in anything off the field. It may not be fair, but a quarterback has less room for error.

The one thing Dak did well after he found himself in this situation was own up to his mistakes. He took full responsibility and acknowledged his mistakes while apologizing for his short moment of misjudgment. He then vowed to show improvement of character without asking for forgiveness.  This incident caused Dak to fall from the second round to the fourth, but how he handled himself after the mistake showed his poise and maturity. That is what teams should have focused on during the draft process.

Sometimes a young man is going to make mistakes. It is how they approach life after the mistake that shows their character. Dak Prescott has said and done all the right things since the DUI.

Who Should Start for Dallas?

(http://nflspinzone.com/2016/08/29/fantasy-football-early-expectations-dak-prescott/)

(http://nflspinzone.com/2016/08/29/fantasy-football-early-expectations-dak-prescott/)

Now that Dak Prescott is thriving in his rookie season, everyone is asking if Tony Romo should start for the Cowboys when he gets healthy. The answer is absolutely, unequivalently no. Here is why.

Tony Romo is injury prone and aging (36).  In 2010 Romo injured his shoulder and missed 10 games. Tony Romo herniated a disc in his back in week 16 of the 2013 season that required surgery. He suffered a second back injury the following season that only required him to miss two weeks. Just last season Romo fractured his collarbone. This year in the third preseason game Romo fractured a vertebra in his back. This was his third back injury in just four seasons. History makes it clear that he has back troubles and at age 36 he can not withstand the hits of the NFL without getting hurt.

Along with the injuries, Romo has a playoff history that has been extremely unproductive. Tony Romo has been in the NFL 14 years and has had 11 as a starter. In those 11 years Romo has led the Cowboys to just four playoff appearances and his record is just 2-4. He also has the infamous dropped P.A.T. against the Seahawks that resulted in a one point loss because of the play. To Romo’s credit he has thrown eight touchdowns to just two interceptions, but he is not leading the Cowboys to playoff victories. That is what matters most.

(John Froschauer/AP Photo)

(John Froschauer/AP Photo)

Another reason Romo should not start for the Cowboys is the team chemistry. The Cowboys are winning and having fun while doing so. Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones need to let the youth of this team get experience so that this team can become a constant playoff team and Super Bowl contender for years to come. Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliot, and the offensive line have an average age of 25.4 years old. The current success is good, but the long term success can get better This team could become one of the best teams in the NFL for the next 10 to 15 years.

This isn’t just about Tony Romo and his lack of postseason success or injuries. Dak has played lights out this season. Along with the 6-1 record as a starter, he has put up great stats. He is completing 65.2 percent of his passes. Dak has 1,773 yards passing and nine touchdowns. His quarterback rating of 99.6 is good for seventh best in the NFL. Dak has also added four touchdowns on the ground.

The most impressive Dak Prescott stat of the season was also a record he broke. The great Tom Brady went 162 passes to begin a career without an interception. Dak Prescott decided to break that record with 172 passes to begin a career without an interception. He has only thrown two interceptions all year.

It’s Been Done Before

(http://www.nfl.com/photos/0ap1000000154170)

(http://www.nfl.com/photos/0ap1000000154170)

If the Cowboys are worried about giving up on Tony Romo for good, they should look at some of the other teams to make the difficult decision.

Back in 1986 current ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski suffered an injury in the second week of the season and the Eagles decided to stick with Randall Cunningham for the remainder of the season. Cunningham continued to play in the NFL until 2001.

Alex Smith was having a great season in 2012 and had a 19-5-1 record under Jim Harbaugh, who was the coach at time. When Alex Smith went down to injury Colin Kaepernick took over and eventually went to the Super Bowl that season because the 49ers decided to stick with Kaepernick.

Drew Brees is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time but even the great Drew Brees lost his job to injury. In the 2005 NFL season, Drew Brees hurt his shoulder in the final game. The Chargers started Philip Rivers and decided to not resign Brees in favor of Rivers.

Hall of Famer Joe Montana eventually lost his job to Steve Young after an elbow injury in the 1990 NFC Championship game. Once Montana got healthy the team still stuck with Young and Montana had won four Super Bowls.

The most similar situation to the Cowboys current dilemma is when Tom Brady came in for the great Drew Bledsoe. In 2001 the Jets knocked Bledsoe out of the game and in came in the scrawny, unknown Tom Brady. The rest was history. Brady went on to win the Super Bowl and Drew Bledsoe was traded to the Buffalo Bills.

(http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/story/tony-romo-injury-broken-qb-dak-prescott-stats-salary-highlights-video-cowboys-dallas-nfl-082716)

(http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/story/tony-romo-injury-broken-qb-dak-prescott-stats-salary-highlights-video-cowboys-dallas-nfl-082716)

There are an abundance of reasons why the Cowboys need to remain with Dak Prescott as the team’s starting quarterback. Dak Prescott is playing great and the team is winning. Tony Romo has a long history of injuries that won’t improve at the age of 36. Romo also has had minimal success in the playoffs with a long body of work. If the Cowboys want to become a great franchise it starts with a great quarterback. It is time to let Dak lead the Cowboys into the future.

 

 

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